With vigorous imagination: Katharine Hawthorne’s “Between the Wish and the Thing”

by Megan Kurashige


photo: Mike Machian

Katharine Hawthorne, our dear friend and a past Sharp & Fine collaborator, has a new show going up this week at ODC Theater in San Francisco. Between the Wish and the Thing is “a dance that asks the audience to imagine the future.” Katharine invited S&F co-director Megan Kurashige to attend a recent rehearsal of Wish and to write something about it. We’re sharing that something below.

First, if you live in the Bay Area, I want to urge you to see Between the Wish and the Thing. There are five performances happening this week and you shouldn’t miss those five chances to see a work that is both fiercely personal and created with generous attention to the audience’s theatrical well-being. Wish is concerned with the entire experience of the audience–how it brings you into a place and gives you things to think about, how it connects with you as a person and also gives you the magic of the theater–and because of that generous attention, it’s a thing to be lived through and not just a show.

(Between the Wish and the Thing runs November 16-18 at ODC Theater in San Francisco. You can get tickets HERE.)

Katharine says that the starting point of Wish was a thing that happened while making another piece, Mainframe (2015), that wrestled with the way humans interact with technology. In the piece, the dancers ask an artificial authority various questions. “Siri, will the future be good?” In the studio, the dancers found this particular question disturbing. It made them uncomfortable in a way that stuck with Katharine and made her want to explore how different people think about the future and what it means to imagine one. She thought about how people sometimes think about the future in terms of plans or lists of expectations, and how that limits our imagining of the future to only things we can already think of.

While working on Wish, Katharine performed parts of it for her 95-year-old grandmother at the nursing home where her grandmother lived before she passed away in June. She was nervous to talk about the future with people obviously near the end of their lives, but she discovered that her grandmother and the other nursing home residents had an expansive view of the future’s possibilities and an urgent desire that the world continue to unfold for people who come after them.

When Katharine talks about imagining the future, it seems like a generous and hopeful thing to do, and she assures me that this sentiment is part of Wish. How to be generous with imagination, how to make the audience comfortable, how to be intimate and earnest with them. But, she reminds me, the future also contains real and terrible uncertainties, as well as things that are absolutely certain and very frightening. She wants Wish to address both. It’s the most autobiographical work she has made so far and it explores difficult material that has been coming up in her own life, questions about being alive and changing. “The future contains my death,” she says. Of course, it contains all of our deaths, but it’s not something I usually think about and to have Katharine say so is both sobering and provocative.

I wish I could transmit through these words the actual experience of watching Katharine rehearse with collaborator Elizabeth Chitty (Katharine’s brother, John Chandler Hawthorne, also performs in Wish). The ideas behind a dance piece mean very little if the dance and performers can’t get inside those ideas and make you feel and believe what they have to say. Katharine and Elizabeth are both exceptionally articulate, thrillingly skilled dancers. Their physical daring and trust in one another is pleasurable on the visceral level of movement and feeling, and their deftness at improvisation, at creating a fresh version of each thought in the moment, makes the work feel like a living and evolving thing. But, the most extraordinary thing is how immediately they make you believe in the connection between imagining and being. Watching them dance and question each other in Chinese and hide beneath blankets and tell stories about not being afraid of the dark makes imagining feel vital and almost definitely the key to any future worth having.

Go see it! We’ll be at the 9pm performance on Friday!

Katharine Hawthorne presents
Between the Wish and the Thing
November 16, 17, 18 at ODC Theater, San Francisco
Tickets available HERE